This September marks the 10th annual National Preparedness Month. Sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and endorsed by the president of the United States, the month urges all Americans to recognize the importance of preparedness and working together to enhance national security, resilience and readiness.
All disasters are first and foremost local, and all emergency response starts locally. Individuals, families, communities, and businesses that are even somewhat prepared fare far better than those who are not prepared. While it’s impractical to prepare for all possible scenarios, every bit of preplanning and preparedness does make a difference. Outside help is not always immediately available. Think back to past emergency events you were involved in, or talk to someone who has been affected; what were some of the things you wished you had thought of and prepared for ahead of time?
The basic mantra is: Be informed, make a plan, build a kit, and get involved.
Being informed means staying updated on local situations and information and knowing what to do before, during, and after an emergency. All types of media, including social media sites, are used now for news, information, and directions. VT 211 (Get connected, Get answers) is a free, confidential, 24/7, reference to access hundreds of community resources, sponsored by the Vermont United Way (www.vermont211.org); it is not for emergencies (911), nor is it directory assistance (411). VT 511 (www.511vt.com) is free reference sponsored by the Vermont Agency of Transportation with updated road information.
Making aplan starts with where to meet; how to communicate with loved ones; evacuation and shelter-in-place options; plans for pets and livestock; plans for infants, elderly and those with special needs; obtaining important medications; and retrieval of important documents. Businesses and communities should also plan for identifying and preparing for alternate ways to continue crucial operations, and recovery. Plans really should be tested, updated, and adjusted periodically. September is a great time to do this!
Kits are generally divided into three categories: Personal “go” kits are in a backpack or duffle that can be easily grabbed and carried. They should have sufficient supplies for you to survive for 24 hours. Mobile kits are in a larger container that can be put or kept in a vehicle. Supplies should be adequate for three days of survival for you and your family. Home kits contain enough supplies and equipment needed in event of an extended shelter-in-place situation.
Getting involved means working with family, friends, community or larger organizations in planning for, preparing for, responding to, and mitigating for emergency events. There are a variety of organizations and groups that are always looking for volunteers.
You may have heard of the survival rule of threes: three minutes without oxygen, three days without water, and three weeks without food. My rule of threes has to do with redundancy. One should strive for three ways to obtain water, shelter, food, and light, as well as three methods of communication, three routes of evacuation, three alternate places to go, and methods to get there, and so on.
Finally, watch out for scams and fraud. Unfortunately, there are a few individuals who prey on the misfortunes of others. Never give out your account numbers or Social Security number, or pay in advance for anything unless you are 100 percent sure it is safe.
Please, take this opportunity to enhance your preparedness for emergencies, even if it’s just to make a few lists and jot down a few ideas.
Brad Salzmann is an orthopedics physician assistant at Gifford in Randolph. He also has a master’s degree in disaster medicine and management, and serves as part of the national Disaster Medical Assistance Team based in Worcester, Mass.
Medical Assistant Noreen Fordham practices evacuating a patient, Surgical Associates Manager Sherry Refino, down a flight of stairs.
The following is an excerpt from our 2011 Annual Report.
In a disaster, the local medical center is a needed resource. With rooms filled with bed-ridden patients spanning multiple floors, a medical center must also be prepared for an emergency within.
Last year, Gifford held one of its largest emergency preparedness training events in recent years. In intense trainings held over two days, a total of 80 employees learned firsthand how put out a fire, communicate via emergency radios, and evacuate patients. They studied the locations of exits, emergency phones and medical gas shut-off valves. They learned about decontaminating patients and personal protection, and dealing with aggressive people.
Environmental Services Manager Ruthie Adams learns to use a fire extinguisher.
Ruthie Adams, Environmental Services manager, was among those who went through the training.
“I think it benefits the entire organization to have folks who understand key and critical points, especially non-clinical staff, such as how to evacuate a patient using an Evacusled, how to communicate on a radio properly, and just being a key go-to person in the event of an emergency,” says Ruthie, who used a fire extinguisher for the first time and now uses radio communication in her job.
The training was just one way Gifford prepares for an emergency. Employees take annual courses and exams electronically on workplace safety, such as fire, electrical, disaster preparedness, and violent situations.
Staff practice securing a patient, played by Environmental Services Team Leader Ralph Herrick, in the new Evacusled, used to evacuate bed-ridden patients.
A 2010 grant supported a study, changes, and significant educational outreach on Gifford’s emergency codes. These codes are what employees hear called out as overhead pages during emergencies and include codes from fire to cardiac arrest to a violent situation.
Monthly fire drills are held regularly throughout all shifts and in varying areas of the hospital.
Physical therapist Patrice Conard and materials clerk Alice Whittington participate in a scavenger hunt utilizing their newly learned radio communication skills.
Director of Quality Management Sue Peterson defines an emergency as “anything that stretches the limits of our normal operations.”
Prior to October’s larger training, smaller emergency trainings were held with managers and facilities staff on radio use and responding to a “code amber,” which is a missing patient or person. Future drills on other codes are planned.
When mass casualty situations like a bus accident with multiple victims arise, which they occasionally do, follow-up meetings are held to discuss what went well and where staff needs to make improvements. An essential Emergency Operations Plan has been
painstakingly updated over the last year, detailing Gifford’s response to a variety of emergency circumstances. The plan continues to be updated so hospital staff can remain ready to address changing threats and adverse events.
“As a medical center committed to our community and as Vermonters with a can-do attitude, we do well,” says Sue. “But preparing for the diverse threats in today’s world is a huge task. Emergency preparedness planning is essential to ensuring that we as a caregiver keep our patients safe in a crisis.”
Volunteers, including LaRae Francis and Carol Blodgett from Gifford’s lab, stand in front of a burn pile at the site of Ken Perry’s former Thayer Brook Road home in Braintree.
The following is an excerpt from our 2011 Annual Report.
Brenda Wright from Gifford’s Environmental Services Department was standing in boyfriend Ken Perry’s Thayer Brook Road home when it began to break apart. Irene’s torrential rain caused Thayer Brook to sweep over its banks, taking away much of Ken’s Braintree land, including that which supported the house.
They lost nearly everything, and on Oct. 28 – exactly two months after the flood – demolished the ruined home.
A group, including LaRae Francis, Carol Blodgett and Robin Palmer from Gifford, arrived the next morning to help pick up remaining debris to be trashed or burned. LaRae brought a group from her church. Carol hadn’t yet been to sleep after her night shift in the lab.
The following is an excerpt from the 2011 Annual Report.
Facilitating a circle of giving
Linnie Laws, Kathy Corrao, and Ginny Cantlin knit and crochet hats and mittens for area school children in need. In 2011, 150 pieces were made by Auxiliary members and their friends.
The Gifford Medical Center Auxiliary is an organization both supported and motivated by donations. Among the medical center’s largest monetary contributors, the now 105-year-old Auxiliary is able to give so much because of the generosity it receives from the
community and its 135 members.
Auxiliary members knit hats and mittens for school children in need and contribute to the Randolph Area Food Shelf and Salvation Army. They help area youth and other area residents pursue health care careers or advance their careers through scholarships. They also volunteer at the Thrift Shop.
A staple in the community for 55 years, the Thrift Shop on the surface is a place to buy bargain-priced wears. Seemingly immune to any stereotypes the Thrift Shop is a source of pride for its shoppers, a daily gathering place for some and a resource to many truly in need.
“Terrible times have fallen upon us, and I just don’t know what to do,” Thrift Shop Manager Dianne Elias often hears. “When people are in true need, they know they can come to us.”
The Thrift Shop is also the main source of revenue for the Auxiliary’s generosity, and it is the community’s place to recycle good quality, unwanted clothes, and small household items, like kitchen ware and linens. The community’s generosity in giving to the Thrift Shop is evident in the piles of boxes and bags that fill the business’ receiving dock each day, but a single event in 2011 highlighted that generosity like no other, and that was
Tropical Storm Irene.
Many families lost everything, and Vermonters sprang into action.
“Every single person wanted to help,” recalls Dianne, “but didn’t know how to help, so they cleaned out their closets.”
The Thrift Shop was inundated.
“The generosity of the Vermont people was literally overwhelming,” says Auxiliary President David Peirce.
Community members crowd into a tent filled with giveaways following Tropical Storm Irene.
The dock overflowed. Donations filled all available storage space at the store and neighboring hospital. David counted the cars pulling up – 12 an hour, or one every five minutes. It went on for weeks. Eventually on a chilly October weekend two months after the flood, the Auxiliary held a giveaway and in the continued spirit of community, everyone pitched in.
The Thrift Shop’s 40 volunteers sorted the donations into men’s, women’s, pants, shirts, etc. Randolph Union High School Encore Theater Co. students worked with advisor Brian Rainville to carry the clothes from storage to tables set up under a tent. Their volunteer work was in thanks for the many costumes the Thrift Shop provides to the school.
Students from Tom Harty’s public safety and criminal justice class at Randolph Technical Career Center guarded the clothing overnight in below-freezing temperatures for the sale the next morning. In typical grateful fashion, the Auxiliary thanked them with a donation to their program.
The same tent by 4 p.m. that afternoon.
The sale was scheduled to last two days: Saturday, Oct. 29 and Sunday, Oct. 30, but by 4 p.m. Saturday nearly everything was gone.
Of course, the donations kept coming in and plenty of goods along with vouchers for free items were offered to families rebuilding after Irene. Fire victims and others in need also often receive free goods.
For paying customers, their spending at the Thrift Shop ultimately goes to the medical center and its patients. In 2011, the Auxiliary supported Gifford’s Affordable Care Program, providing free and affordable care to patients in need. It fulfilled departments’ “Wish List” requests, bringing added equipment to patients utilizing the lab, Pediatrics, the Emergency Department, Pulmonary and Cardiac Rehabilitation programs, the Bethel and White River Junction health centers and more.
Volunteers gave more than 4,500 hours in 2011 at the Thrift Shop to make that giving possible. Auxiliary board members also give significant time to the non-profit volunteer-run organization.
The reasons why they do this are diverse, but all come down to one main motivation: supporting their community and their community hospital.
Rochester Ofﬁce Manager Dawn Beriau crosses a ﬁrst-generation footbridge connecting Route 73 to Route 100. For weeks she and many others “on the island” had to carry supplies, like gas and groceries, over the bridge and then a sturdier second-generation bridge, along a winding path and through a muddy ﬁeld to their cars.
The following is an excerpt from our 2011 Annual Report.
The storm knocked out the bridge connecting Route 73 to Route 100 in Rochester. Isolated on the other side of the bridge, away from the Rochester clinic, was Office Manager Dawn Beriau.
When she finally arrived at the Rochester clinic, she found Dr. Mark Jewett and Stu Standish installing Gifford’s generator.
“I can’t tell you what a feeling it was to have the townspeople erect a footbridge and make my way into town to find Stu and Dr. Jewett at the health center setting up the operation,” Dawn says, “and how safe it made the townspeople feel to know there was a doctor in town. I have talked to people who say they slept better knowing Dr. Jewett was here.”
Stu Standish, from Gifford’s maintenance department, Dr. Minsinger and Kris Minsinger transport a Gifford generator, which was used to power several of Gifford’s health centers following Irene to ensure care was available to patients in need.
The following is an excerpt from our 2011 Annual Report, which featured examples of Gifford employees helping in their community post-Irene.
Dr. Bill Minsinger, and his son Kris, followed Stu Standish of Gifford’s Maintenance Department and internal medicine physician Dr. Mark Jewett into Rochester in their van. Stu hooked up the generator, getting the Rochester clinic up and running, and left Dr. Jewett to begin seeing patients.
Dr. Minsinger and Kris then climbed in the truck with Stu and continued on to the isolated towns of Stockbridge and Pittsfield to answer medical calls. At times they had to abandon the truck, climb down a fallen section of road and borrow a vehicle on the other side in order to continue.
One sick patient was brought to the Rochester clinic for medical tests and then back to Randolph for hospital care. The Minsingers made other trips to the isolated communities, bringing medications and medical supplies.
This video, starring our very own Dr. Jewett & Gail Proctor at the Rochester Health Center, describes how rural health care providers responded to Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. It was released last week during National Public Health Week, April 2-6, 2012.
With many bridges and roadways washed out after tropical storm Irene, it wasn’t just commuters, farmers, and tourists who were cut off. Health care providers as well as patients were cut off from clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies until roads were opened again.
In Rochester, Vermont, rural providers had to use two-way radios, cell phones, and 4-wheelers to get prescriptions filled and delivered to patients in need.
The State Office of Rural Health & Primary Care, a part of the Vermont Department of Health, works with and supports small rural hospitals, clinics and health care providers throughout Vermont to improve access to primary care, dental, and mental health care for all Vermonters, especially the uninsured, underserved and those living far from larger medical centers.